The Kept Woman (Will Trent, #8)
There was always a boy waiting for her, expecting something from her, pining for her, hating her. It had been like that for as long as she could remember. Ten years old: her mother’s pimp offering to trade a meal for her mouth. Fifteen: a foster father who liked to cut. Twenty-three: a soldier who waged war on her body. Thirty-four: a cop who convinced her it wasn’t rape. Thirty-seven: another cop who made her think he would love her forever.
Forever was never as long as you thought it was.
She touched her daughter’s face. Gentle this time, not like before.
Her skin was soft, unlined. Her eyes were closed, but there was a tremble behind the lids. Her breath whistled in her chest.
Carefully, she stroked back the girl’s hair, tucking it behind her ear. She could’ve done this at the hospital all those years ago. Smoothed a worried forehead. Kissed ten tiny fingers, caressed ten tiny toes.
Manicured fingernails now. Long toes damaged from years of ballet lessons and late-night dancing and countless other events that had filled her vibrant, motherless life.
She touched her fingers to her daughter’s lips. Cold. The girl was losing too much blood. The handle of the blade sticking out of her chest pulsed with her heart, sometimes like a metronome, sometimes like the stuck second hand on a clock that was winding down.
All those lost years.
She should’ve held her daughter at the hospital. Just that once. She should’ve imprinted some memory of her touch so that her daughter didn’t flinch the way she did now, moving away from her hand the way she would move away from a stranger’s.
They were strangers.
She shook her head. She couldn’t go down the rabbit hole of everything she had lost and why. She had to think about how strong she was, that she was a survivor. She had spent her life running on the edge of a razor—sprinting away from the things that people usually ran toward: a child, a husband, a home, a life.
Happiness. Contentment. Love.
She realized now that all that running had led her straight to this dark room, trapped in this dark place, holding her daughter for the first time, for the last time, as the girl bled to death in her arms.
There was a scuffing noise outside the closed door. The slit of light at the threshold showed the shadow of two feet slithering along the floor.
Her daughter’s would-be killer?
Her own murderer?
The wooden door rattled in the metal frame. Just a square of light indicated where the knob had been.
She thought about weapons: the steel posts in her high heels that she had kicked off as she ran across the road. The knife sticking out of her daughter’s chest.
The girl was still breathing. The blade of the knife was pressed against something vital inside, holding back the torrent of blood so that her dying was a slow and labored thing.
She touched her fingers to the knife for just a second before she slowly pulled her hand away.
The door rattled again. There was a scraping sound. Metal against metal. The square of light narrowed, then disappeared, as a screwdriver was jammed into the opening.
Click-click-click, like the dry fire of an empty gun.
Gently, she eased her daughter’s head to the floor. She got on her knees, biting her lip as a sharp pain sliced into her ribs. The wound in her side gaped open. Blood slid down her legs. Muscles started to spasm.
She crawled around the dark room, ignoring the chalky grit of sawdust and metal shavings grinding into her knees, the stabbing pain beneath her ribs, the steady flow of blood that left a trail behind her. She found screws and nails and then her hand brushed against something cold and round and metallic. She picked up the object. In the darkness, her fingers told her what she was holding: the broken doorknob. Solid. Heavy. The four-inch spindle stuck out like an ice pick.
There was a final click of the latch engaging. The screwdriver clattered to the concrete floor. The door cracked open.
She narrowed her eyes against the coming light. She thought about all the ways she had hurt the men in her life. Once with a gun. Once with a needle. Countless times with her fists. With her mouth. With her teeth. With her heart.
The door opened a few more careful inches. The tip of a gun snaked around the corner.
She gripped the doorknob so that the spindle shot out between her fingers and waited for the man to come in.